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Summer of the Snakes

August 7, 2014 - Naturalist's Notes


While some of us may be trying to find ways to stay out of the harsh summer sun, our slithery, cold blooded friends are finding the heat irresistible. Snakes and other reptiles cannot keep their body at a constant temperature through metabolizing food like warm blooded animals do. Instead, they take on the temperature of their surroundings. If a snake is cold, they move to a warm, sunny area; when they are too hot, they move to a cool, shaded area.

In the summer, open roads, sidewalks and dirt trails become great basking sites for snakes of all shapes and sizes! This means that the chance of coming across one of these scaled creatures increases, leading to a surprising and often unnerving encounter for some. Many people have a fear or dislike of snakes, often times stemming from a misunderstanding of these unique animals.

All snakes are carnivores, meaning they hunt and eat other animals. Some, like the tiny Ringneck snake that grows no larger than a #2 pencil, frequently prey on crickets, earthworms and other small invertebrates. Others, like the elusive timber rattle snake, hunt larger mammals such as mice, chipmunks and young rabbits. This snake is one of two venomous snakes in our state, along with the northern copperhead. Most other snakes in our area are considered constrictors, meaning they squeeze their prey before consuming them. Because of their reputations as fierce hunters, many people fear the bite of a snake. Keep in mind that any snake can bite, no matter the type. But snakes are not diabolical, vicious killers — they bite to kill and eat their food or to defend themselves.

If you stumble across a snake while enjoying the outdoors, the best thing to do is give it space and leave it be. Most snake bites occur due to stepping on a hidden snake or attempting to move the unwanted visitor. We are much larger than any snake found in Maryland, which must seem quite threatening to them — many snakes will make a quick retreat when discovered. Unfortunately, there are several species of snake that are no longer common due to persecution by humans —o ur fear has fueled us to seek out an eradicate certain species in the past.

While not everyone may find snakes as appealing as most warm and furry animals, it is important to keep in mind that they play a major role in our ecosystem. Snakes control pest species, especially rodent populations, preventing them from entering our homes or destroying our crops. So next time you come across an animal of the slithering, legless variety, appreciate its unique adaptations and its helpful habits from a safe distance, and both of you will continue to enjoy the summer day!


– By Irvine Naturalist, Laura Soder